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Taiwan-Canada research team sheds light on dinosaur evolution

2017-02-13 16:46:12

Taiwan-Canada research team sheds light on dinosaur evolution

Source:2017-02-13/Taiwan Today

A Taiwan-Canada research team used the NSRRC’s synchrotron to uncover evidence of protein preservation in a 195 million-year-old dinosaur fossil. (Courtesy of NSRRC)

A Taiwan-Canada research team has discovered evidence of protein preservation in a 195 million-year-old dinosaur fossil, a significant finding that may provide more information on the biology and evolution of the long-extinct animals, according to Hsinchu City-based National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center Feb. 2.

The study was conducted by researchers from the NSRRC, National Central University, National Chiao Tung University, National Chung Hsing University and University of Toronto Mississauga. It was published online Jan. 31 in the journal Nature Communications.

Using the NSRRC’s synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator, the team found proteins known as collagen type I preserved inside the vascular canals of the rib of a Lufengosaurus, a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur from the Early Jurassic epoch. The animal’s remains were unearthed in Yunnan Province, mainland China.  

“Our finding extends the record of preserved organic remains more than 100 million years and highlights the importance of using in situ approaches to these types of investigations,” said Lee Yao-chang, an NSRRC scientist and primary author of the paper.

The researchers also discovered evidence of the existence of haematite particles, and proposed that the particles may have played a crucial role in the preservation of the proteins by preventing further oxidation of the collagen.

“It’s exciting to discover proteins of such an old age, as biocomponents normally degrade quickly after an animal dies,” he said. “During the ensuing fossilization process, vertebrate bones and teeth are gradually transformed into inorganic rocks, which offer little valuable biological or evolutionary information.”

Lee said the micro-spectroscopic methods employed by his team make possible future explorations of even older proteins.  

“Whereas previous studies extracted organic remains by dissolving away all other parts of the fossil, our approach achieves better results without complex demineralization and extraction procedures,” he said. “It also provides a better understanding of the precise origins of the collagen.” 

While it is impossible to recover dinosaur DNA from the proteins, Lee said his team’s approach may help scientists extract more organic remains from fossilized bones and advance the study of animals that once roamed the Earth. (SFC-E)